SANTIAGO – The Chilean government rejected on Monday plans for a $2.5 billion mining megaproject in the northern region of Coquimbo that would have had a negative environmental impact on an area that is home to 80 percent of the world’s Humboldt penguins.
A Cabinet committee made up of several ministers voted against Andes Iron’s Dominga project, a decision that was in line with the one made by the Environmental Evaluation Commission (CEA) in March.
“I firmly believe in development, but it can’t come at the cost of the environmental heritage or create risks for people’s health. Especially, in areas of unique global ecological value,” Environment Minister Marcelo Mena said after the meeting.
Residents of Coquimbo and scientists have worked for years to stop the project, arguing that it would harm the rich biodiversity in the area.
The coastal waters around La Higuera, a town in Coquimbo, are home to the Isla Choros-Damas Reserve, Isla Chañaral Reserve and the Humboldt Penguin National Natural Reserve.
The 888-hectare (2,192-acre) Humboldt Penguin National Natural Reserve hosts the largest colony of Humboldt penguins and the fourth-largest and most southernmost group of bottlenose dolphins in the world.
The reserve is also home to millions of native and migratory birds, as well as mollusks, fish and whales, which feed on huge krill banks.
Andes Iron planned to build an iron and copper mine, as well as a port, in La Higuera, which is in northern Coquimbo.
The Dominga megamine was projected to have annual production of 12 million tons of iron concentrate and 150,000 tons of copper concentrate.